Dealing with Temper Tantrums


If you’re a parent you’re bound to experience temper tantrums at one point or another, studies from the United States (Potegal & Davidson 2003) have shown that kids between 18-24 months as well as 30-36 months are most likely to throw a temper tantrum.  The below table demonstrates a significant drop in percentage at 42-48 months.

Age of Child

Percentage of Children who have temper tantrum’s

18-24 months

87%

30-36 months

91%

42-48 months

59%

So why are temper tantrums so prevalent in toddlers? In a human brain an area located behind the eye brows called the prefrontal cortex regulates emotion and controls social behaviour. Inadvertently it is also the last area of the brain that develops. So by 48 months it only begins to mature.

Apart from the scientific reasoning above Gina Mireault, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Johnson State College introduces a theory that reasons that children don’t think logically which brings up unnecessary stress and anxiety. For example it’s not uncommon for a young child to believe someone really snatched their nose or that there’s really coin behind their ear. All of these factors add an extra element of worry to every day which can increase the likelihood of a tantrum.

How to avoiding Tantrums

Did you know that temper tantrums can often be avoided? As your child grows you’ll get a good idea of the triggers that may influence a tantrum. Here are some ways that will help you reduce the risks:

  • Timing: Plan your activities wisely. If you need to go to the shop or take your child somewhere it’s best to choose a time when they’re not tired. If you know your child is exhausted try not to fit in too many extra activities.  
  • Giving back some control: Sometimes it’s good to give your kids some small choices to help them feel more in control. A choice between two juices or two outfits can make them feel like their opinion is being considered.
  • Positive attention: Some praise and attention for positive behaviour goes a long way with children. Make sure to reward them for their positive behaviour.
  • Hide off-limit objects:  It’s much easier to keep off-limit objects away from the child than to have to take it away from them. Place items that can’t be out of sight and out of reach. If you see your child is about to have a tantrum try to distract them with other objects or remove them into a different environment.
  • Don’t reward tantrums: Many parents unknowingly make the mistake of rewarding tantrums and reinforcing them. If you’re child starts a tantrum because you haven’t brought him a toy then deciding to buy that toy shows them that tantrums will bring positive outcomes. It’s important to stay strong and not accidently reinforce this reaction.

While the above tips will help reduce the number of tantrums your children will need to have remember that it’s vital not to let them drive you into a tantrum yourself! A toddler’s tantrum certainly challenges our ability to remain calm, in control and to not engage in a power struggle. However for your child to learn themselves to remain calm, in control and verbally express their feelings they need to see what this looks like from their life long “teacher”…you the parent.

Ways to stay calm during your children’s temper tantrum

  • Develop a strategy to employ if your child has a tantrum in a public place.
  • Understand and accept that your children won’t always listen to you and it’s not a reflection on your parenting skills.
  • Humour goes a long way, try and stay light hearted about the difficult situation.
  • Understand that your children aren’t having these tantrums deliberately it’s just a part of their brain development.
  • Don’t allow other people’s bad reactions to influence your intended approach. No should stay no despite social pressure you may experience to stop your child screaming.

When all else fails help is only a call away:

  • The Maternal & Child Health Line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The number is 13 22 29
  • Your local GP should assist with local support groups